Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Manifesto for the content industry 6 – Focus on Quality

Focus on quality. A corollary to adding value; you cannot compete on quantity, it’s you vs the world, you have to be better than good.
So what do I mean by focusing quality? Well, simply put, it is finding and exploiting (in a positive sense) the great stuff.
First though, some numbers to explain why quality is the differentiator for any kind of business based on digital content:

•At least 35 hours of content is uploaded to Youtube every minute.
•The movie featured in this blog post was shot on an $800 SLR.
•Garage Band recording software is available from £13 and a fully specc’d copy of Cubase from £190
•e-books now outsell paper books on amazon and can be produced with free software and the cheapest pc you can find.
•Portable digital recorders with condenser mics now cost less than £100.
•You tube, Picasa, Bandcamp, and oodles of other sites allow creators to upload and share / sell their content for free.
•Over $100million was pledged to Kickstarter projects last year.
•There are over 200 million blogs and this number rises every year.

What all of this means is that it is easier than ever for creators to produce good content, easier than ever for them to share it directly with their fans, and easier than ever for people to find new content.

What’s not easy to do is find the best content. There’s so much good stuff out there that finding the great stuff, and getting in front of the right people, is a challenge for creators and consumers alike.

As with adding value, focusing on quality is where middlemen have a role.

We touched on this in the previous instalment (I used the example of the difference in production values on albums by The National) and these two aspects do sit together to a great extent, getting top quality content in front of the right audience is still a real challenge at all levels of the industry.

In the TV and music world there is currently a focus on the reality TV shows and their offspring, Big Brother, X-factor and their ilk. This is very much a lower-end-of-the-market play and, whilst it offers high returns for low overheads in the short term, the numbers indicate that this may have a short life span. Audiences for Big Brother and similar shows have fallen heavily since their early highs and whilst the X-factor continues to grow its TV viewing figures, the sales of singles are falling (even when downloads are taken into account). The limited longevity of the acts also means that there is very little “long tail” to be capitalised on.

By focusing on the lower end of the quality scale the output becomes a commodity rather than “art”, which, as well as removing any long-term re-sale value from the product, makes it open to competition from lower / zero cost producers, removes a lot of potential for any brand loyalty and makes the operation very vulnerable to a sudden shift in public opinion.

The competition for consumers attention is more open than ever, whilst the major content producers also own the major media and distribution channels a demand can be created, but as the net democratises the flow of information, and as peer-recommendation outgrows media hype, the money that people have to spend on entertainment will move towards quality output, even as they continue to watch and listen to the mass produced output.

* This may be my first ever blog post that has no asterisk'd footnotes. Oh wait.